Finding a new preschool might not happen as quickly as some would like, but the city’s school board on Monday recommended a few first steps that could have children in a new building by the 2016-2017 school year.
The main concern now: Fix the lead-based paint on the decades-old home of the Preschool on New York Avenue. That repair could cost an estimated $150,000. A remediation plan could be submitted to federal officials and Anderson County education officials by March 4.
There had been some hope that a new home for preschool students might be found as early as this August.
But during a recent work session, a few Oak Ridge City Council members had concerns about the potential costs of leasing or buying a new facility and the lack of relative options presented so far, as well as a desire to determine the best size for a new facility and establish the overall goals of the preschool program.
A recommendation presented at Monday night’s Oak Ridge Board of Education meeting by Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers amended the earlier timeline.
“We don’t need a brand-new building come March,” Borchers said.
In addition to asking the city to repair the lead-based paint, the BOE unanimously recommended a new committee be formed to help lay the groundwork for moving into a new preschool by the 2016-2017 school year. The committee would include both a BOE and City Council member; a community member and a city staff member; the school system’s supervisor of maintenance and operations; and a preschool parent, teacher, and director.
The committee would study the future needs of the preschool program and the options available for a new building; make a recommendation to the BOE and City Council by a set deadline in order to allow time to prepare a new facility in the 2016-2017 school year; provide regular progress reports; and work to remove the perception that this lease is just “kicking the can down the road” for another extended period of time.
Separate from the Preschool proposal but as part of the overall plan, school officials would also like the city to buy the Oak Ridge Chamber of Commerce building on Oak Ridge Turnpike, near Oak Ridge High School, for a new school administration building. The G Building at ORHS could also be renovated as part of the overall plan for more administrative offices, among other uses.
Borchers said the Preschool, which serves roughly 200 children, is the top priority.
The Preschool is now housed in the Oak Ridge Schools Preschool and Robert J. Smallridge School Administration Building on New York Avenue. That building was erected as a temporary structure in 1943.
Parent Jessica Hill suggested her optimism was fading after two recent meetings between city and school officials, and the Monday night School Board meeting. Hill said she wants kids to be out of the Preschool next year, and she doesn’t want school officials to study the issue again for another year.
“We’ve been studying this for 30 years,” Hill said. “I don’t want you to put another Band-Aid on a gaping wound.”
But Borchers expressed optimism about the course that school officials were taking, and possibly the city as well.
“This is our best effort, our best chance,” Borchers said.
He said school officials want to see an immediate fix to the lead-based paint. That will give city and school officials time to look at a long-term solution and possibly have a new Preschool by the fall of 2016, Borchers said.
The School Board’s recommendation is expected to be considered by the Oak Ridge City Council on February 9.
Oak Ridge school officials have said the system’s federal Head Start funding could be in jeopardy if the lead-based paint isn’t repaired. Anderson County officials apply for Head Start funding on behalf of Oak Ridge. That funding amounts to about $600,000 per year, or roughly 40 percent of the Preschool budget.
See Borchers’ recommendation here: Future Plans for Oak Ridge Preschool SAB version 4bb.
See previous stories on the Preschool here.